The Celtics have a fever and the likely prescription for them will be their opponent tonight, the Memphis Grizzlies. The combination of facing the Grizz and the return of Rajon Rondo will likely be more than enough to get the Celtics back on the winning track this evening.
I will touch on Rondo’s return later in the post but even if he was not scheduled to play this evening, this is a game the C’s should still win. The Grizzlies have been a bad basketball team this year but have been especially terrible in the last few weeks losing 11 of their past 12 games. They are coming off of a 27 blowout loss in Minnesota on Wednesday Night in which they were only able to muster 78 points against a depleted Wolves team.
That kind of offensive input has been a consistent characteristic of this young Memphis squad as they have ranked 29th in offensive efficiency this year. They have some scorers in Rudy Gay and O.J Mayo but have lacked constant productivity from those two and the rest of their young supporting cast to account for enough offensive production to be competitive.
Their defense is not much better, ranking in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency. To put it bluntly, there is really nothing this team does particularly well and a lot of things they do poorly. A lot of bad teams have brought up their level of play (see Clippers game) when facing the defending champs, but the Grizzlies lack the talent and ability to show up on the road (4-26 record away from Memphis) to make an upset threat seem likely.
That being said, the wise words of Clipperblog’s Kevin Arnovitz ring in my ear loudly when thinking about this game, “It’s the NBA, everyone has a chance.” That holds especially true tonight with a tired C’s team still lacking four rotation players. They will have to come out hungry and be efficient from the opening tip to take away any glimmer of hope Memphis has to win this game. Some other things to watch for tonight.
How much Rajon Rondo plays: After being ruled out of this game earlier this week by Doc Rivers, Rondo has deemed himself fit to play for tonight’s game. Although we have not heard from Doc on the matter yet, his return tonight has to be an extremely encouraging and relieving sign for Celtics fans given the apparent lack of severity of the ankle injury.
His minutes will clearly be kept down tonight as I expect Rivers to be overly cautious with him but the fact he will be returning against such a subpar opponent shows the ankle must not be bad at all, since they really don’t need him to win this game. Great news for the team’s finals prospects as it wasn’t getting there without a healthy Rondo.
More playing time for young guys/rest for Paul and Ray: Doc spoke on this after Sunday’s game and we saw it to a degree in Miami. Bill Walker and Gabe Pruitt saw some time with Walker making the most of it having a productive game. Paul and Ray still played 40 minutes more out of necessity than anything else as Doc had no other options if he wanted to give the team a chance to win that game.
I look for the planned rest for these two to begin tonight with an inferior opponent and the return of Rondo to ease the team’s burden on those two. I see them both going 30-35 minutes to start the resting trend for them with Walker and Pruitt likely seeing major playing time to fill in for those minutes. I really liked what I saw out of an aggressive Walker Wednesday night with 8 points and a couple of assists and steals in 14 minutes so we will see if he can build on that tonight.
Marc Gasol: With Rondo back, the Celtics main weakness will be on the front line as they still only have three healthy big men. The emergence of the Grizzlies rookie center does not bode well for the C’s in that department as he has scored in double figures in five of the last six games including a triple double against Philadelphia last week.
To say the C’s front line have had problems getting into foul trouble lately would almost be understating it. (4 fouls in the 1st quarter on Wednesday Mikki Moore? Really?) Thus it is crucial that the C’s play tough D on him from the onset and allow themselves the chance to stay on the court and contribute.